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The Forge

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Blackburn (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1849 - ca. 1859 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sharples, James, born 1825 - died 1893 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraving and stipple etching on a steel plate, in a wooden frame

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Marion Sharples, the artist's grand-daughter

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case 93, shelf 14

James Sharples was a blacksmith in a large factory in Blackburn, Lancashire. He was a self-taught artist whose significance to art history and the history of the working class lies in his being a manual worker resident outside London whose artistic output attracted the notice and admiration of the London art establishment. This print was favourably reviewed in The Athenaeum and The Art Journal as well as by John Ruskin, who reviewed it in Ariadne Florentina.

This image by a worker taken of his workplace occupies a unique position among British images of labour. It was Sharples' only major print which took him ten years to complete. Sharples was not trained in the techniques of reproductive printmaking and reputedly made the tools for his printmaking himself. The practice of a craftsman making his own tools was standard in many trades. That in this instance the tools were for the making of a fine art object reflects the unique nature of this project which unitied art and manufacturing.

Physical description

Steel plate engraved and etched with image of the interior of a forge with ten men at work, tools on the brick walls and beam and tiled roof visible. Another room is visible through an archway at the back. Smoke and flames are billowing out of the furnace (right). For an impression taken from this plate see E.670-1993.

Place of Origin

Blackburn (made)


ca. 1849 - ca. 1859 (made)


Sharples, James, born 1825 - died 1893 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Engraving and stipple etching on a steel plate, in a wooden frame

Marks and inscriptions

The Forge / Painted and Engraved by James Sharples. / Published by James Sharples, 44 Audley Lane, Blackburn.
In reverse


Height: 50 cm frame, Width: 57.6 cm frame, Depth: 2.2 cm frame

Object history note

Provenance: the artist's grand-daughter by descent.
R.P. No. 93/1031

An impression of 'The Forge' acquired by the British Museum in 1865 is lettered differently, 'Printed by H. Wilkinson 93 Charrington St, London.' An impression in a private collection gives the same printer's address as the British Museum impression but lists Sharples' address as 121 Cleaver Street, Blackburn. The notice for the print in the 1859 Art Journal states that it can be purchased from H. Wilkinson. There are substantial state changes between the private collection impression and the V&A's.
In 1995 the painting on which this plate and impresion was based was on long term loan to Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery from the artist's great grand-daughter.

Historical context note

During the ten years he was engraving his plate, Sharples attempted to prevent it from rusting. 'In order to guard it against rust I was accustomed to rub over the graven parts with oil. But on examining the plate after one of such intervals I found that the oil had become as dark sticky substance extremely difficult to get out... at length I hit upon the expedient of boiling it in water containing soda, afterwards rubbing the engraved parts with a tooth brush...' (J Baron, p.40-41.

Descriptive line

'The Forge', engraved and stipple etched steel plate, by James Sharples, British, ca. 1849-59.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The Art Journal, 1859, p. 352.
Baron, J. James Sharples: Blacksmith and Artist. London, 1893, p.33-46.
Klingender, F.D. Art and the Industrial Revolution., 1947, p. 144.
Godfrey, R.T. Printmaking in Britain. Oxford, 1978, p. 100 and plate 99.
Barringer, Tim. Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain. London, Yale University Press, 2005.
Ruskin, John. Ariadne Florentina: Six Essays on Wood and Metal Engraving. 1872.
Smiles, Samuel. Self Help. 1860.


Steel; Wood


Engraving; Stipple etching

Subjects depicted

Costume; Forge; Blacksmiths




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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